Be All In
By Greg Bach
Navigating today's youth sports landscape is full of challenges for parents, as any number of issues can sabotage a child's experience.
Concussions, negative post-game conversations on the car ride home, and specializing too early are just some of a lengthy list of topics that can derail a season and drain the fun out of participating.
"There’s no one-size-fits-all journey to succeeding in sports," says Dr. Kristine Keane, a clinical and sports neuropsychologist who teamed with soccer legend and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Christie Pearce Rampone to author the recently released book Be All In: Raising Kids for Success in Sports and Life.
Keane, a mom of three children who play soccer and basketball and run track, has been working with professional athletes, physicians and mental health clinicians for the past 20 years. She is also the owner, developer and clinical director of two multispecialty neuropsychological private practices and clinical director of the Neuroscience Concussion Program at Hackensack Meridian Health System.
Check out the insight Keane shared on a number of all-important youth sports topics below, and if you missed it, check out our interview with her co-author Christie Pearce Rampone.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Many parents push their kids into one sport these days; what's your take on specialization in youth sports?
DR. KEANE: We talk in the book about the importance of not specializing in one sport early on. There’s a push to do that, even though the American Academy of Pediatrics warns against doing so. There’s pressure to play one sport all year round in order to get playing time or play on elite teams. We also talk about the importance of free play and giving your child time to just play without structure and without guidelines. Our kids are so structured now with our play dates, trainings and practices, so making sure that you have that balance of free play. In the book there is a chapter called Slowing Down to Speed Up, and that’s really about taking a step back and it’s really about being mindful of what are our goals and what are our values as a family.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: As you were writing this book what did you learn that you have applied to how you parent your young athletes?
DR. KEANE: So one of the things that has changed for me that I talk to other parents about is making sure that you trust your coaches, because a lot of times parents are on the sidelines yelling instructions or trying to coach because they are not trusting in the process. And it’s really important to trust the process and your child’s journey through sports, so that way you can be the parent and stay in that role and allow the coach to do the coaching. And in doing so I have found that to be a lot less stressful.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How do you handle the car ride to and from games with your kids and what should parents be focused on?
DR. KEANE: Every kid is going to be different and you’ve really got to look at how your child reacts and what they need. On the way to games we talk about everything from hydration to positive self-talk, imagery, visualization and the music they listen to. So that’s all about that prep and helping them have the confidence when they walk on the field.
On the way home the emphasis is on letting them heal from the field and recognizing that emotions run high after a game for both parties – for parents and for kids – and letting the kids have that space. Some kids want to talk about it; some kids are passionate about the game and they want to hear what your thoughts are and that’s fine. If you see that working that’s absolutely fine. Then there are other kids where they are kind of stonewalling the parents – they shut down and they put the ear buds in and they shut you out and it’s stressful and maybe it creates a family argument on the way home because emotions are running high and everyone hasn’t had time to cool down and think rationally first. So that’s what we talk about with the ride home, that needed space there and of course recognizing that it’s natural for everyone’s emotions to run high.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: When it comes to concussions, what's your message to parents of young athletes?
DR. KEANE: A concussion is a serious injury. Just because you can’t see it, it doesn’t mean that you haven’t injured your brain. The message I would say to parents – whether it’s contact or non-contact sports – is understand the signs and symptoms of concussion because they are not always caught on the field in youth sports. There’s not going to be an athletic trainer there and sometimes there’s not even a parent who is in the medical field at the game, so for you to understand the signs and symptoms. Most parents are watching the ball – wherever the ball is that’s where everybody’s eyes are – so a concussion can occur and it might not be seen by the coach. So really educate yourself on the signs and symptoms.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are the dangers associated with Second Impact Syndrome?
DR. KEANE: Parents really need to make sure their child is safe to return to play. A lot of people are eager to get their kid back. I’ve seen it in my office where parents feel really pressured to get them back to play because they’re afraid to lose playing time or they’re afraid to lose playing time during a tournament. But the problem with going back too soon is if the brain is still concussed it can take less provocation to cause a second concussion. And we’re not real sure in science yet how the brain recovers from that second blow. But what we do see are prolonged symptoms and even some very severe symptoms. So the initial injury that could have taken two to four weeks to recover – that can turn into a whole season now, or even longer than that.
Christie and I have both seen where a kid doesn't get the proper evaluation and then they push to play and then it winds up being a season-ending injury. And more important than the season ending is academically I see kids who look like they have ADHD symptoms – they are struggling academically throughout the year – and that’s the next set of struggles your child can go through if it’s not handled properly.
You can follow Dr. Kristine Keane on Instagram @drkristinekeane and on Twitter @DrKristineKeane
Dr. Kristine Keane
Dr. Jennifer Etnier, professor of kinesiology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and author of Coaching for the Love of the Game, on helping volunteer coaches be positive difference makers for young athletes
Part Two of our conversation with Lisa Yue, Founding Executive Director of the Children’s Cardiomyopathy Foundation
Lauren Johnson, Mental Conditioning Coordinator for the New York Yankees, on helping young athletes thrive amid the stress and struggles that accompany competing in sports
Soccer great Christie Pearce Rampone, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist, two-time World Cup Champion and co-author of Be All In, on helping parents raise their young athletes for success on and off the field